Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Monday, August 06, 2007

8-6-01: A Date That Should Live in Infamy

(Graphic by Tengrain, blogswarm idea by Ripley at The Zen Cabin, and thanks to Blue Gal for spreading the word.)

While the Bush administration rattles sabers once again and insists on more unchecked surveillance power and fewer civil rights for Americans, and Democrats seem set to capitulate for no good reason, it's worth taking stock of the Bush administration's actual record on terrorism.

First, let's take stock of the present legislative and political peril from Bush's new wiretap push, captured nicely by Digby:

Let's set aside the idea that "trusting" the Bush administration with warrantless wiretaps is like trusting your four year old with a zippo lighter, what kind of bucket-of-lukewarm-spit kind of politics is this? What are they afraid of, that the Bush administration will blame them if a terrorist attack occurs and they didn't approve another blank check? Guess what? It wouldn't matter if the Democrats named Bush king with the power to draw and quarter hippies and Muslims on the white house lawn, they will still blame the Democrats if there is another terrorist attack.

That's not to mention that the four year old in this case is a proven arsonist. It's not just the Bush administration. Rudy Giuliani bases his entire campaign, public persona and rhetorical attacks on 9/11, even though his actual 9/11 record is shameful. His paper tiger game is nothing compared to the Bush administration's, however.

Before 9/11, Condoleezza Rice blew off warnings from Sandy Berger, Richard Clarke and others that their biggest threat would be Al Qaeda; Rice initially didn't seem to know who they were. Before 9/11, Cheney insisted on being in charge of Bush's anti-terrorism task force, and met all of... zero times. And before 9/11, six years ago today, a little document was presented to George W. Bush and his inner circle: "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside U.S."

This is the same critical Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) that Condoleezza Rice shamelessly, cravenly insisted was merely a historical document. Read the PDB, watch the video, and recoil anew at Rice brazenly lying to the 9/11 Commission that the PDB did not speak of current threats. Rice asserts that the PDB "was not a warning," a blatant falsehood that betrays her lack of integrity and the Bush administration's criminal incompetence.

However, Rice's lies and Cheney's ineptitude pale in comparison to the spectacle of George W. Bush's reaction to the PDB, as reported in Ron Suskind's 2006 book, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11. The accuracy of this passage has never been challenged by the White House (to my knowledge). Although pressed on this very subject by Richard Ben-Veniste during her testimony, Rice left this tidbit out:

The "what ifs" can kill you.

Something missed. A failure of will. A turn in one direction when the other one was the right path.

Over time, people tend to get past them. We did what we could, they say, and move on.

But, in terms of the tragedy of 9/11, a particular regret lingers for those who might have made a difference.

The alarming August 6, 2001, memo from the CIA to the President — "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US" — has been widely noted in the past few years.

But, also in August, CIA analysts flew to Crawford to personally brief the president — to intrude on his vacation with face-to-face alerts.

The analytical arm of CIA was in a kind of panic mode at this point. Other intelligence services, including those from the Arab world, were sounding an alarm. The arrows were in the red. They didn't know place or time of an attack, but something was coming. The President needed to know.

Verbal briefings of George W. Bush are acts of almost inestimable import in the affairs of the nation — more so than is the case for other recent presidents. He's not much of a reader, this President, and never has been, despite White House efforts to trumpet what serious books he is reading at various times. He's not a President who sees much value in hearing from a wide array of voices — he has made that clear. His circle of truly trusted advisors is small — smaller as President, in many ways, than it was when he was governor. But he's a very good listener and an extremely visual listener. He sizes people up swiftly and aptly, watches them carefully, and trusts his eyes. It is a gift, this nonverbal acuity, that he relies on in managing the almost overwhelming duties of the presidency: countless decisions each day, each one important; a daunting array of issues to grasp; an endless stream of politicized experts and expert politicos, all speaking in earnest tones. What does George W. Bush do? He makes it personal. He may not have a great deal of experience, especially in foreign affairs, before arriving in the job, but — because of his trust in those interpretative abilities — he doesn't view that as a deficit. The expert, sitting before him, has done the hard work, the heavy lifting, and the President tries to gauge how "certain" they are of what they say, even if the issues may be unfamiliar to him. Do they seem nervous or unsure? Are they fudging? Why do they think what they do... and what do they think of him>? That last part is very important.

The trap, of course, is that while these tactile, visceral markers can be crucial — especially in terms of handling the posturing of top officials — they sometimes are not. The thing to focus on, at certain moments, is what someone says, not who is saying it, or how they're saying it.

And, at an eyeball-to-eyeball intelligence briefing during this urgent summer, George W. Bush seems to have made the wrong choice.

He looked hard at the panicked CIA briefer.

"All right," he said. "You've covered your ass, now."

That's from Suskind's first two pages, in his preface. The picture doesn't get any rosier. The Washington Post's review highlighted this incident. Many bloggers have covered it (I did here, among other places). And Fahrenheit 9/11 featured Rice's attempted obstruction and Bush's paralysis on 9/11 itself.

This is the man nominally leading our country. Anecdotes such as this abound; this is merely one of the most egregious, maddening, and inexcusable. Suskind is relatively diplomatic and understated. The idea that a leader should focus on substance and also, y'know, read, shouldn't be radical propositions. If ever one doubted that the modern Republican party has deep contempt for the American people, it should be clear from the fact that they thought George W. Bush, who they knew behaved in this manner, was the very best person out of their entire party to be President of the United States.

As several others have noted as well, incompetence is not a bug of secretive, authoritarian regimes. It's a feature. The Bushies and other movement conservatives are bullies, with really only a few moves: secrecy, lying and bluffing. Giuliani doesn't want the general public to watch the video (linked above) made by 9/11 firefighters because they'd learn the truth about him and his shoddy record on terrorism. Similarly, the Bush administration has never wanted an honest, rational examination of their record on terrorism or anything else. These people are not acting in good faith, and have never acknowledged their catastrophic mistakes, which they are hell bent on repeating. That's why these issues are so important. The MSM has proven it will rarely call the GOP on its many lies, and the MSM accepts the Bush administration's secrecy. The MSM is wary of digging up the past because of its own glaring culpability. Meanwhile, too many Democrats are currently afraid to call the Bushies on their many shameless bluffs. The crucial subtext of Bush's presidential campaign against Kerry in 2004 was that if Kerry wouldn't stand up to ridiculous, scurrilous attacks by — the Bush campaign! — how could he be trusted to stand up to foreign foes? The Bush administration got one thing right (maybe the only thing they've got right) — it's important to stand up to bullies.

If we're to restore the Constitution and get America back to some semblance of sanity, this dynamic needs to change. These bullies, alarmists, propagandists and chickenhawks need to be called on their bluffs. Approval ratings show that the public's sharp enough to know that Bush and Cheney are bad for the country, but the details are important, most of all so that more citizens pressure Congress to do the job of running the country responsibly that the Bush administration will never do voluntarily. The epigraph Suskind chose for The One Percent Doctrine is from Thomas Jefferson: "Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government." To effect positive change, the Bush administration needs to be examined far more frankly far more often, so that the public is better informed. A good starting point is revisiting that crucial PDB and how the Bush administration responded.

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

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